The History of Paradise Island
The Early Years
Paradise Island, home of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, has a long
and somewhat sordid past. Thousands of years before its official discovery
in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, the island was inhabited by self-proclaimed
“island people” who called themselves the “Lucayans.”
These original inhabitants were mistakenly referred to as “Indians”
because Columbus initially thought he was in the East Indies when he arrived
on the Caribbean shores. Despite his nominal mistake, Columbus did correctly
recognize the island’s indigenous people as the warm, peaceful people
that they were. Unfortunately, the history of Paradise Island did not
remain peaceful for long.
The Spaniards’ keen interest in Paradise Island was based on the
possibility of discovering valuable ore in its soil, but their futile
attempts to find gold quickly led them to search elsewhere. Due to their
relentless capture of the island’s natives to work in the gold mines,
within 25 years, the Lucayans no longer existed.
Charles I of England claimed the Bahamas as part of England in 1629; that
same year he acquired the Carolina portion of the United States. This
action would lead to the combined integration of both English and Southeast
American influence on the history of Paradise Island.
The first English settlers in the Bahamas were called “The Company
of Adventurers for the Plantation of the Islands of Eleutheria”.
They were shipwrecked on a southern Caribbean island around 1647, while
looking for a place to establish a Puritan colony. With no way of turning
around, they were forced to adopt what is now “Eleuthera Island”
as their home, and would eventually spread out to other Bahamian islands
including Paradise Island.
The Golden Age of Piracy
Piracy had a significant impact on the history of Paradise Island. Nassau
(dubbed Charles Town) saw its fair share of pirates during the 1600s and
1700s including the infamous Blackbeard, Anne Bonney, and Mary Read, just
to name a few. These unscrupulous looters would lure ships close to shore,
and then pounce and plunder. Much to their dismay, pirates were run out
of town when England signed a peace agreement with the victims and sent
in warships to expunge them from the island. The good crew’s motto
was “Expulsis Piratis- Resituta Commercia,” meaning “Pirates
Expelled - Commerce Restored.” It was at this point in time that
the Bahamas became a British Crown Colony.
A Tropical Escape
Paradise Island has a long history of serving not only as a haven for
vacationers and tourists, but also as a place of refuge for those escaping
from the law. For example, many British loyalists fled to the Bahamas
during the American Revolution, and during the Civil war, Confederates
used the island as a conduit for transporting military equipment despite
Union blockades. U.S. Prohibition attracted attention to the island yet
again as American rumrunners shipped their contraband in through Nassau
as well as from other parts of the Caribbean.
King Edward VIII renounced his kingship in 1940 to escape to Nassau
and marry the woman he loved. The couple, who came to be known as the
Duke and Duchess of Windsor, brought much controversy, but also glamour
to the island which helped establish its fame as a super-popular tourist
destination. Even in modern times, the island’s “escapist”
reputation flourishes as it remains a hotspot for smugglers looking to
sneak illegal substances and immigrants into the United States.
Although the Bahamas declared its independence from England in 1973, it
is still officially loyal to the Queen and remains part of the British
Commonwealth. Paradise Island now thrives economically due to its appeal
as a leading vacation spot, and its focus on offshore financial services.